Lydia Jenkin talks to Die!Die!Die! frontman Andrew Wilson about the album that almost killed them.
Releasing their fourth studio album Harmony has actually been a particularly unharmonious experience for three-piece band Die!Die!Die!
A multitude of obstacles (including what amounted to a band break-up) left them unsure whether the album would ever emerge but, as animated lead singer and guitarist Andrew Wilson explains, the fact that it has gives the album title new meaning.
"It's not ironic. This album was so much fun but such hard work and that harmony reflects the fact that the hard work paid off. We were all so burnt-out and run over by everything but the music... I thought this was going to be that album that would never come out and I'd be a shit-talker. But now it's out, I can be la de da and get on the razz!"
Wilson and new bassist Mike Logie (of The Mint Chicks, F In Math, and Opossom) - who took over from Lachlan Anderson - are in celebratory mode on the Friday afternoon of the interview, having just released the album. There's a bottle of wine to be shared, and Wilson's in a chatty mood, happy to tell the story of this difficult album.
Having released their third album, FORM, through the newly rejuvenated Flying Nun label in August 2010, the band were keen to start recording again quite quickly, despite a hectic touring schedule. So they organised to spend a week recording at Black Box Studio in France, with Australian producer Chris Townend (Silverchair, Portishead, D12), during a gap between gigs in mid-2011.
"I'm good friends with Daniel Johns from Silverchair and he was working with Chris at the time. [He] said 'call Chris, he'll get you guys; he's the man'. So we told him we had no money, and Chris said 'well I'll do it for free, just pay for my airfares'. He's a really good dude."
The studio is on a farm with its own accommodation, and was, as Wilson describes it "a bloody good time".
The band clicked so well with Townend they threw out most of what they'd planned to record and came up with a whole lot of new material.
"The first night we arrived, me and our drummer Mikey Prain were just like, 'oh my God, we've got this studio, it's magical, it has every piece of equipment we've ever dreamed of playing', so we just set up and jammed, and that's what we did every night really."
Musically they ended up with a more live-sounding album than FORM, which was all about layers of sound. Harmony saw them more adventurous, more inventive with their instruments, with producer Townend pushing them all to turn it up.
"Chris was really obsessed with my live guitar sound. He approached Die!Die!Die! from a very different experimental angle, he saw our live, really feedbacky, nasty guitar sound as a strength. Chris was like, 'anything rock, anything pop, anything not future music needs to be out the window'. Don't get me wrong though, he loved the drums and loved the bass. He just wanted it all to be in the red."
So the recording in France was a success, and when they eventually returned to Auckland, they did some recording at The Lab, getting Shayne Carter (who produced their second album Promises, Promises) involved in some vocals, before finishing it off over in Tasmania. From the outside it seemed to be going smoothly, but it was actually a period of intense turmoil for the band. Having been touring almost non-stop for six years when they returned to NZ in June last year, despite having an album's worth of songs under their belt, they thought Die!Die!Die! was finished. Anderson wanted to move to Melbourne, and Prain and Wilson were sick of each other too. "We were so close, and it gets to the point where you just need a break. And we all wanted new things from our lives, really."
Plus they were no longer happy working with Flying Nun and wanted out of that contract, which took some wrangling, especially considering they had no money to pay their lawyer. In finding a job to pay off the debt, Wilson crossed paths with Manu Taylor, now their manager, who thought the album was worth putting out despite Wilson's lack of initial enthusiasm.
"There were no labels we really wanted to release it on, so I was like 'right, we'll just start our own record label', which is what we wanted to do in the first place. But then we thought, 'well, we don't really have a bass player, and we can't really tour'. And me and Mikey didn't know if we wanted to hang out with each other anyway."
But with the suggestion that Mike Logie could join them, Wilson began to see the possibility of a new era for the band, independent of any local labels.
"I thought, with this album, we can't blame Flying Nun for it not going how we want, we need to put ourselves in the front seat, take responsibility, so there's no one to blame but ourselves. If we want to operate at the level we want to operate at, we need to be in the driving seat, hands on the steering wheel, foot on the accelerator.
"Maybe we're driving off the bridge, but at least I'm in the seat. And we're finally getting pay cheques - it might not be the biggest pay cheque but, for the first time in four albums, we're seeing the return from our record sales."
Who: Dunedin band Die! Die! Die!
What: New album Harmony.
When and where: Friday, July 13 at the Winchester in Newton, Auckland.